Posts Tagged ‘flashbacks as nightmares’

Last weekend, I was in a very dark place. However, I managed to pull myself out on Monday by putting all of my tools into practice. I am no longer concerned about being “abandoned” over the Christmas holiday. Whenever the thought even crosses my mind, I know how to fight it.

I was OK on Monday and Tuesday, but then I started getting jittery on Wednesday and then feeling anxious on Thursday. My sister also had a panic attack on Thursday night. I thought this was perhaps another “disturbance in the force” outside of myself, which is frustrating because I do not yet know how to fight that. When the problem is not within me, it is much more challenging to know how to fight back within myself.

I stayed anxious all weekend. I used Xanax to sleep at night, and I found myself compulsively overeating for several days. I couldn’t tell you why – only that I felt “off” and anxious, and eating soothed that feeling.

On Saturday, my sister mentioned in passing that her university’s graduation was that day, and she was reminiscing with her children that it was exactly one year ago that she was the one graduating with her Bachelor’s degree. I did not think much of the comment at the time – no dots were connected.

Then, on Saturday night, I had a flashback dream that told me exactly what my problem is – It has been one year since I forced myself to see my mother/abuser again after a six-year hiatus. I only did this because my love for my sister outweighed my aversion to seeing my mother, and my sister invited us both to the graduation.

In the dream, I relived the moment of my mother hugging me. It wasn’t a complete repeat of the place, but it was a repeat of the emotions. I was having to spend time with my mother, even though I did not want to. I was making a real effort to be polite even though I wanted to run screaming from being anywhere near her. Then, she wanted a hug. I did not want to give her one, but I believed I had no choice, and my friend (who came with me last year to the graduation to be my “buffer”) stood next to me watching and letting me make the call. She had no way of knowing that there was no choice – only compliance because I never feel like I have a choice in my mother/abuser’s presence.

She hugged me thoroughly as I tried not to touch any part of her. A part of me wrestled with whether it would be easier just to let go and embrace her hug, but the larger part of myself had flashes of all of the ways I had been hurt in childhood by her body touching mine. The hug seemed to go on forever. As soon as it ended, I forced myself awake. My heart was racing, and I was very shaky.

It took me a couple of hours after being awake to tie it all together – Seeing her again was traumatizing, and her hugging me added to the trauma. I know all of you are thinking, “Duh!,” but I guess I never really made that connection. I saw it as facing past trauma, not as adding more trauma that needed to be processed.

I had so much drama trying to get home (our flight was canceled due to weather), and then I faced a breast cancer scare as soon as I returned, so I never took any time to work through my feelings and reactions to the trauma of seeing her again. I just wanted to put it all behind me…and now it is back on the anniversary of that newer trauma. Oh, joy!

Photo credit: Hekatekris


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Last night, I had a very disturbing dream that was really a flashback. People frequently have trouble identifying a nightmare as a flashback, so I thought I would share my nightmare and then explain the flashback elements.

Here was the dream. It might be triggering, so proceed with caution.

+++ sexual and ritual abuse triggers +++

Hub and I were about to make love. He wanted it, but I was just going along because I was supposed to. He wanted to move it outside to the back deck. (Our bedroom and house was nothing like our real one.) We continued on the deck with the lights on at night, and there was a building across the street where several apartments backed up to our deck. I feared that people were watching, so I asked hub to turn off the light. He turned off one light, but we were still illuminated, and I knew that someone was watching, videotaping us, and uploading it to YouTube. I was horrified but could not stop it.

Afterward, hub told me to clean the sheets. They were extremely messy and sticky, and his bodily fluids got all over me – my hands, my legs, and my whole body. I could feel it oozing down parts of my body, but I could not make it stop.

+++ end triggers +++

I awoke with a start. My heart was racing, and I was triggered.

This was a flashback, even though this particular sequence of events never happened. The flashback was in the feelings and my reaction to different things that did happen to me, such as not having a choice about sexual contact, being watched and on display for multiple people, being filmed, and being covered with bodily fluids after being raped.

I cannot eat cereal because I get triggered if a drop of milk oozes down my face. I suspected that this tied into the sexual abuse. This dream confirms that this is exactly why I react in the way that I do.

The reason that I awoke feeling triggered is because this was a flashback, not just a dream. For this reason, telling myself, “It was just a dream,” is not helpful afterward. Instead, I have to comfort myself. I have to soothe the hurting little girl inside who is still haunted by the horrors that I suffered as a little girl.

I will probably always experience flashbacks through nightmares from time to time. They are not fun, but they are a normal aftereffect of trauma. Recognizing these dreams for what they are – flashbacks – empowers me to comfort myself through them.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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